Modern Library Learning Environments - space and service

| Author: Paula Eskett

Modern Library Learning Environments (MLLEs) are the evolution of the traditional 20th Century transactional library service. They are user centred, user driven, proactive, constantly evolving participatory spaces that support and reflect the education world all educators are now part of.

School libraries and librarians are part of this new education eco-system, preparing students for a vastly unpredictable and constantly changing world.

MLLEs are where print and digital resources meet, as part of a smorgasbord of offerings curated to support, encourage, engage and make our students curious about their learning, and  foster and develop a childhood love of reading.

A MLLE is not just about space, it gives equal consideration to space and service. Confusion can happen when radical service redesign and delivery intersect with what we’ve known and how we've always operated. The MLLE movement has given traditional libraries a formidable challenge.

Recent discussions debating the role of school libraries in Modern Learning Environments can lead to thinking that a decision needs to be made: distributed collections OR library, and in some worst case scenarios - do we need either?

The myth that all students are carrying a library in their pocket and “we don’t need a library”, as BYOD becomes increasingly the norm, does nothing to support, prepare or scaffold students into a world that will expect them to know how to wisely navigate and contribute in a world digital-by-default.

Digital citizenship is also dangerously assumed and taken for granted.

Reading requires access to resources

What remains constant is the absolute need for students to have access to resources in all their different formats, which will stimulate imagination, curiosity and wonder to support their learning and foster a love of reading.

Distributing parts of a library collection makes small collections of books instantly available where students and teachers spend much of their day. It makes books visible and accessible and another choice in a learning commons, encouraging recreational browsing and reading. These are all great outcomes.

But, if this scenario is implemented to replace the library, those schools are saying that “Library equals just books" - a service we moved on from years ago.

Providing distributed library collections only to a school community is like doing your weekly grocery shop from a dairy: you’ll get your basics, but not much more and you’ll never get a deli range.

MLLE’s are about books AND …Books and people and spaces and technology and reading and creating and collaboration and noise and discovering and...so much more.

Distributed library collections alone won’t provide equitable access for all students to a rich, deep collection consciously curated to support inquiry, just-in-time learning, as well as making possible the wonder of discovery as they explore, browse and engage with information in print and digital formats.

Supporting learners

21st century learners need to experience making choices that match their learning needs. They need to practice selecting, deselecting, getting it wrong, trying again and celebrating their success, and be supported whilst doing this.

They also need spaces to be part of their learning choices. Libraries facilitate reading, relaxing, focusing, learning, exploring and social learning. They are a destination for our young people wanting to know more about things in life that they’re curious about.

And amongst all this choice, there is also the role of the librarian / library based teacher/ library leader in MLLE and MLE. But this is a whole other blog post!

School libraries at the heart of schools

With many New Zealand schools being the heart of the local community, school libraries have a unique and special opportunity to be at the centre of that heart: community centred and focused facilities that support the learners and their support crews of teachers and whanau. A MLLE is about upping our game as librarians and educators to create a new relevance in a new era of education.

There is no one model or one-size-fits-all answer for our school libraries – each school and its community is unique and different. Whether we work in a new school, rebuilt school, merger school or traditional school, a MLLE  is primarily about the service the library offers its community. It's about making the library visible, central, integral and built into the current teaching, learning and focus of your school.

National Library Services to Schools is working with many schools across New Zealand who are exploring; thinking about or being thrown head first into a MLLE.

We recognise there are many aspects and dimensions to MLLE for those working in New Zealand schools. We will be publishing new resources on our website in the coming weeks to add to our existing Modern Library Learning Environment content, to support principals, school librarians and educators as we all work in this brave new education world.